This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Peak" by Anders Ericsson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .
What are some deliberate practice examples from Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise? How can these people’s stories prove that, with hard work, you can become an expert in any field at any age?
Sometimes peak performers can seem like otherworldly figures, overflowing with divine talent. They appear to be in possession of some rare gift, some innate spark that the rest of us simply don’t have. However, this is not true, peak performers reached their level by using deliberate practice. Here are four deliberate practice examples.
Continue on for deliberate practice examples that prove masters aren’t born, they are made.
Deliberate Practice Examples
We are often in awe of the world’s peak performers in music, athletics, and countless other fields. Sometimes they can seem like otherworldly figures, overflowing with divine talent. Surely these individuals must be in possession of some rare gift, some innate spark that the rest of us simply don’t have.
But that isn’t the case at all. How did these people become so good at what they do? The answer may seem simple, but it’s true: they practiced They practiced the right way, they practiced with the right people, and they practiced a lot.
This article will take a look at four deliberate practice examples that show that masters aren’t born, they are made.
Benjamin Franklin: A Self-Taught Writer
The first deliberate practice example is Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin was a renowned 18th- century polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He taught himself to become an effective and skilled writer without the aid of a teacher because he was intensely focused and disciplined in the pursuit of this goal. He had been inspired by the quality of prose in a British magazine he read, and he wanted to perfect his own writing. Without access to a teacher, he put the principles of deliberate practice into action all on his own.
His method was to try to replicate the sentences and paragraphs in the magazine after they had left his short-term memory. To help himself, he wrote short summaries of the magazine’s content, so he could be reminded of the meaning of each sentence. His goal was never to reproduce the work of the magazine word-for-word. Rather, Franklin was attempting to create his own articles in his own words that were just as detailed, witty, and skillfully written as the original.
When he compared his work to the original, he would identify common instances where his writing fell short, and refine this practice technique to focus on those particular weaknesses. In this way, he acted as his own teacher, giving himself feedback and perfecting his deliberate practice regimen.
For example, he found that one of his shortcomings was his immediate vocabulary—it wasn’t as large or extensive as the writers of the magazine. He knew all the words they used, but never had all of them in his mind, at his immediate disposal. To correct this, he added a new component to his deliberate practice regimen. He transformed the articles from prose to poetic verse, reasoning that the rhyming and metric demands of poetry would force him to use a greater variety of words. Then, once he had forgotten the original phrasing of the article, he would translate his poems back to prose in his own words.
Paul Brady: The Percent Pitch
Perfect pitch—the ability to recognize any note on the musical scale without using a reference note—is thought to be either a rare talent that some are simply born with, or a skill that can only be perfected if one starts in childhood. As the example of Paul Brady shows, both notions are false.
Brady was a 32-year-old man who decided that he wanted to learn perfect pitch, a skill that had eluded him throughout his life. He worked with a tone generator, a computer program that produced random pure tones (unlike the notes on a piano, which produced multiple frequencies).
At first, he practiced with the C note, reasoning that he could use that note as a base from which to recognize all the other notes on the scale. Brady stuck to the principles of deliberate practice, setting aside time each day to work on his project. The software was likewise written with these ideals in mind—as he got better and better at identifying C, the program began generating fewer and fewer of them and producing more of the other notes. This was deliberate practice in a nutshell: pushing Brady to challenge himself more after every improvement.
And the results showed. After two months, when his wife played individual notes on the piano, Brady was able to correctly guess 37 out of 55. And those he got wrong were only off by half a note. This performance met the standard of perfect pitch. Brady had taught himself to do something that was thought to be unteachable.
Mozart: The Music “Prodigy” and Deliberate Practice
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is often regarded as the very embodiment of a musical prodigy, someone whose extraordinary artistic accomplishments at such a young age can only be explained by some inimitable talent within him. At the age of six, he was already dazzling audiences with his skills on a grand European tour in which he showcased his—allegedly— original compositions.
But Mozart had something that counted a lot more than raw talent, he was a perfect deliberate practice example. He had a father, Leopold, who was himself an accomplished musician and who was highly motivated to have his young son become a great figure in the annals of musical history. The elder Mozart had even written a book about teaching music to children. We know that he began his son’s training before the boy was even four—ample time for Wolfgang to soak up important hours of deliberate practice in his formative years, as he taught the young man multiple instruments, as well as how to listen to and analyze music.
Thus, the claims about Mozart’s childhood compositions are likely exaggerated. His early childhood compositions are actually written in his father’s handwriting—a clue that perhaps the elder Mozart played a larger role in this stage of his son’s career than history cares to remember. Musicologists have also discovered that these compositions were derivative, based mainly on the work of obscure composers.
In fact, they were probably training exercises that Leopold gave to his son, the best surviving evidence of Mozart’s deliberate practice. In fact, the first serious work that can be unequivocally attributed to him came when he was in his teens—after a decade of purposeful practice. Still a remarkable achievement, but not quite the child prodigy that legend has made him out to be.
Alexander Alekhine: Blind Chess Master
The final of the deliberate practice examples is the story of Russian chess master Alexander Alekhine. He shows how mental representations can drive extraordinary performance. In 1924, Alekhine played simultaneous games of chess against 26 opponents over a 12-hour period. He won 16, lost five, and played to a draw in another five. This record was remarkable, given how many factors he had to keep in mind at once—26 boards, 832 individual pieces, and 1,664 individual squares. This was “blindfold” chess: a game in which one of the players does not have the board in front of them, and must make all their moves and strategic calculations from memory.
How could this be possible? Through mental representations. Alekhine had developed the ability to visualize the entire chessboard in his memory and move the pieces around in his head. Interestingly, becoming a blindfold chess master was never his main focus. He had an early interest in chess as a child and had been purposefully practicing the game his entire life, taking on greater challenges and defeating stronger and stronger opponents.
Alekhine’s aptitude for blindfold chess grew out of this purposeful practice in standard, non-blindfold chess. Like many chess masters, his abilities in blindfold chess were a product of the years of experience he had in the game: because he knew it so well, he had the ability to draw an extraordinary mental representation of a chessboard in his mind and game out all the possible moves and countermoves he and his opponent could make—without even looking at the board.
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Anders Ericsson's "Peak" at Shortform .
Here's what you'll find in our full Peak summary :
- How to become an expert in any field you choose
- Why practice isn't enough because you need to change how you practice
- Why natural talent isn't enough and practice is more important